The brainchild of Sheka Forna, brother of celebrated author Aminatta Forna, Rogbonko Village Retreat is unlike any other accommodation available in Sierra Leone, offering not just the chance to wind-down in a truly magical forest setting, but also to live and immerse yourself in all aspects of rural village life.
Following a stop for lunch en-route at Roland Beach – a former sand mine converted into an adventure playground of a beach, with differing levels, fallen trees and traditional cane bridges – you will be warmly welcomed at Rogbonko by its 500-odd inhabitants, led by the kindly caretaker, Pa Abbass.
Embark then on a circular walking tour (2 hours, c. 5km) of local farms, villages, grasslands and ‘boli’ (flood plains), learning about the cultivation and processing of local crops, such as rice, cassava, cashew nuts and palm oil. Halfway you have the opportunity to interrupt your walk to float down the river and back in a traditional dugout canoe; a magical experience cutting through mangroves and lilies with an abundance of butterflies and full view of the rice farms along the adjacent flood plains.
Take care to observe the abundance of butterflies, fluttering past at every turn, with the peaceful air interrupted only by the swoosh of a panga, tweets of birds and the occasional crashing of monkeys in the trees.
Back at the retreat, you can then cook with the villagers, using fresh produce from the farms (killing and preparing your own ‘country fowl’ – chicken – should you desire), and learn how to make local favourites such as groundnut soup, cassava leaf and pepper soup.
The following day sees tradition supplanted with modernity, as you take the 1.5 hour bumpy journey to one of the most beautiful and awe-inspiring places in the country, Bumbuna Dam. This huge structure has been off-limits for many years until our recent initiative with the Ministry of Energy. Walk across the 50 metre high curved wall, tour the powerhouses and control stations and learn just how this controlled mass of water powers cities the size of Freetown and Makeni.
Bumbuna is not just engineering, however. It is also home to one the highest concentrations of birds (259 species, including five of conservation concern), butterflies (444 species) and plant biodiversity in Sierra Leone – in the top 5% of the whole Upper Guinea ecosystem. Staff will explain the environmental controls they have in place to protect this; and a guided walk into the surrounding forests supplements the tour of the dam itself.
Returning via Bumbuna Falls, your Rogbonko experience is then complete the following morning with a workshop in the traditional art of basket-weaving; a craft that provides livelihood for a number of the village’s talented inhabitants, who weave bags, placemats, pots and lanterns from raffia pulled from nearby trees.
Rogbonko Village Retreat can sleep up to eight people, consisting of two neatly-finished mud brick houses of two twin bedrooms, a living room and bathroom set back from the village surrounded by trees.
There is no electricity and bucket showers are the name of the game, but nice touches abound, including solar lights, scented soap and raffia curtains and artwork, made in the village. Staff can arrange for the charging of mobile phones, and the place is impeccably clean, sprayed regularly to deter mosquitos.
Facing the houses are the ‘Barray’ – an open sided round house offering a shady place to eat, sit and chat – and the kitchen.
Local knowledge: Bumbuna Dam was originally posited as a source of energy in 1971 in Siaka Stevens’ time as President. Construction, however, finally began in 1992, and was completed 17 years later in 2009 due to the civil war and funding constraints.
The dam comprises of 150,000m3 of concrete, holds back 410,000,000m3 of water, is 87m high at its highest point and stretches 400m across the Seli River. Every second it discharges up to 40m3 of water, producing up to 50 mW of power.
Rogbonko Village Retreat is incorporated into a few of our tours